March 31 deadline set for Specialty Crop Grant applications
PROVIDENCE – The Department of Environmental Management (DEM) announces that more than $150,000 in farm viability grants is available for projects that enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops grown in Rhode Island. The funds are from the US Department of Agriculture's Specialty Crop Block Grant program. Specialty crops are defined by this federally supported program as fruits and vegetables, dried fruit, tree nuts, and nursery crops including floriculture including Christmas Trees, cut flowers, honey, hops, and turf grass production.
Grant awards may be used for research, promotion, marketing, nutrition, trade enhancement, food safety, food security, plant health, product development, education, "buy local" initiatives, and for programs that provide for increased consumption and innovation, improved efficiency and reduced costs of distribution systems, environmental concerns and conservation, and development of cooperatives.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the USDA Office of Management and Budget has provided flexibilities to grant applicants and grant recipients and additional funding to states to assist farms from the impacts of COVID-19. Funds must still meet the requirements of the specialty crop grant program, but there is an emphasis on projects that provide COVID-19 assistance/ relief.
DEM anticipates that approximately $150,000 - $300,000 will be awarded under this grant round with no direct match required. During the most recent funding cycles, the average amount of funding per project ranged from approximately $32,400 to $42,600. DEM awarded $130,008 in farm viability grants last fall to four Rhode Island-based groups to support local agriculture.
"This competitive grant program will help strengthen markets for Rhode Island specialty crops and support local farming and food businesses," said DEM Director Janet Coit. "Consumer demand for locally-grown products is strong and is spurring growth in our state's farming industry. We encourage farmers and others working to promote the long-term viability of locally-grown fruits, vegetables, nuts, horticulture, and nursery crops to apply for this exciting funding opportunity."
Eligible entities include Rhode Island farmers, residents, or community groups engaged in research, marketing, food safety/security, plant health, buy-local initiatives, and/or development of cooperatives. Funded projects must support the broad competitiveness of locally-grown specialty crops in Rhode Island. Initiatives that benefit a sole commercial product or provide a profit to a single individual or group will not be considered. Since 2016, DEM has awarded over $800,000 in grants through this program to support growth of specialty crops in Rhode Island.
For more information on the Farm Viability program, visit DEM's website. Applications should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org in DEM's Division of Agriculture by March 31. Grant-related questions should be directed to Ananda Fraser, produce safety program coordinator in DEM's Division of Agriculture at 222-2781, ext. 72411 or via email to email@example.com.
DEM continues to work across many fronts to benefit and strengthen Rhode Island's green economy and to assist local farmers and fishers in growing their businesses. There are more than 1,000 farms sprinkled across the state and Rhode Island is home to a thriving young farmer network. DEM continues to make investments in critical infrastructure as well as provide farm incubation space to new farmers through its Urban Edge Farm and Snake Den Farm properties.
The state's food scene is often cited as an area of economic strength ripe for innovation and growth. Already, the local food industry supports 60,000 jobs, and the state's green industries account for more than 15,000 jobs and contribute $2.5 billion to the economy annually.
For more information on DEM programs and initiatives, visit www.dem.ri.gov. Follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RhodeIslandDEM or on Twitter (@RhodeIslandDEM) for timely updates.